A few days ago, I had a conversation with Àngels Gascueña, a mountain guide who specialises on guiding people with physical impairments. Àngels is part of Guies d’Arrel, a team devoted to inclusive guidance which we are proud to work with to offer our inclusive tourism activities. This conversation, along with the guided tour around Bagà’s Old Town I gave a group of people with visual impairment Àngels herself brought to me a couple of weeks ago, made aware of a very basic thing: heritage –both natural and cultural– belongs to all of us, hence it must be accessible to everyone.
Thus, I started to search information about the matter, only to find an enormous gap. For those who are familiar with the issue, I guess I’m not bringing up anything new to you. However, I was staggered by the fact that there are such few people working to put the mountains and the activities in the nature within everyone’s reach. Not only in Catalunya, but in the whole Spanish State, the number of companies working on that is extremely limited. And I mean working on it for real, because having a Joëlette chair just in case someone asks for it is not the same than organising activities designed to be suitable for all people.
I find it terrible that, apparently, the only way to enjoy the mountains and the landscape if you have a physical disability is by going into competition. But, what if you don’t want to compete? What if all you want is to go on an excursion, or to climb the Moixeró, but you must do it on a wheel chair? What if you want to discover your region’s landscape, but you have a visual impairment? We must have a touristic offer that puts the land within everybody’s reach, and it is necessary to stimulate the demand of such activities. Discovering the mountain, the nature, the landscape, is a gratifying, unique and magical experience that anyone should be able to enjoy. But, most of all, everybody should now that they can enjoy it. Because there are people and companies committed to demolish the barrier between the mountain and people with functional diversity. Because, thanks to people like Guies d’Arrel or the members of the Eidós Project, it is possible to explore the region without the fact of having a disability being a hindrance.
How? Well, for instance, organising outings with Joëllete chairs, directional bars or sign language interpreters. Rocky slopes are the only terrain that a Joëllet chair cannot defy; you can even go on a route in the snow! Directional bars are perfect for people with a visual impairment if the terrain is very technical, yet it’s not always needed. It depends a lot on the person and the trail, that’s why the guides have extensive training. The guides also carry tactile materials on the outings: maps in relief for everyone to discover the landscape, different rocks to get to know the region’s geology, animal pelts and bones to allow contact with the area’s wildlife… Nature is more than just landscape: it is smells, textures, sounds. There are countless ways to enjoy it, and everyone has their own. In Pedratour, for instance, we work on this idea through our 5 senses stay: it’s a 3 day stay, suitable for everyone, to approach the natural environment in many different ways.
Well, this is the kind of thing we must try to promote. There’s room for everyone in the mountain, and this is why we must be accessible through all the territory. We must encourage formation on inclusivity in tourism and leisure companies, and we have to promote the demand of activities in the nature that are accessible to people with functional diversity. Because some of these activities exist, but, above all, because many can exist. It is possible for the natural environment and the mountain to be within everyone’s reach, because it is heritage. And it belongs to all of us.
There’s much talk about sustainability, these days. And that’s great and necessary, but sustainability must be present in all aspects. In Pedratour, we take very seriously the sustainability issue, in all its sides. This is why we insist on the importance of working for a tourism that is sustainable in the environmental aspect –of course–, but also socially and economically speaking. And social sustainability necessarily includes accessibility. Therefore, we all must work to make everything the land has to offer accessible to everyone.
This is a job we must do to improve as a society, and to be able to share without barriers what we love the most: the culture, the land, the mountain, the nature. Furthermore, it’s a win-win! To reinforce this message, allow me to end citing the PREDIF Accessibility Guide: “Accessibility is indispensable for 10% of the population, necessary for 40%, and comfortable for 100%”. So, let’s work for a mountain with no barriers!